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Talent Acquisition Tips & Takes with Trent Cotton

In the aftermath of the Great Resignation, companies are increasingly thinking about more than typical HR tasks like hiring, benefits, and basic career development. They’re devoting more attention to what makes employees feel engaged, satisfied, and motivated every day in the workplace. This shift to a more employee-driven workplace is a much-needed correction, and it’s exciting to hear from HR experts who are driving these changes directly. 

Trent Cotton is the VP of Talent & Culture at Hatchworks, where he oversees the entire employee journey from hiring to engagement and culture and beyond. He’s a big believer in taking an employee-centric approach to the HR field and workplace culture, and his expertise and enthusiasm are especially clear to his large and growing LinkedIn community. 

Trent shared some talent acquisition tips and insights from his decades-long career as an HR executive, including how he keeps his HR skillset sharp in a demanding role, his views on the future of HR, and the best career advice he’s ever received. 

Can you tell us about your role and background?

Interestingly enough, I put myself through college working as a banker and when I graduated, continued on that track. I worked in retail, commercial, private wealth, and mortgage banking for several years as a producer and eventually a senior leader. One department I hated working with was HR.

When I decided to make a pivot in my career, I chose HR because I wanted to bring a more business-minded/client-centric approach to the discipline. I started as a contract recruiter in 2004 and have been in HR since then. 

I am currently the Vice President of Talent and Culture, managing all aspects of HR except payroll, benefits, and operations. It’s the fun part of HR in my opinion. 

What skills do you think have been critical to your success as a leader in HR?

Adopting a business and client-first mindset has been instrumental in driving my success within Human Resources (HR). By prioritizing the needs and objectives of the business alongside the expectations and satisfaction of our clients, I’ve been able to cultivate a highly responsive and proactive HR environment. 

This approach has enabled me to align HR strategies closely with the company’s overall goals, ensuring that every initiative—from talent acquisition and development to employee engagement and retention strategies—supports business growth and enhances client satisfaction. Moreover, this mindset has fostered a culture of excellence and accountability within the HR team, encouraging us to continuously seek innovative solutions that benefit both the organization and its clients.

By placing the business and client needs at the forefront of HR practices, I’ve contributed to building a resilient, adaptable, and high-performing workforce that is well-equipped to meet the evolving demands of the market.

How do you continue to keep your skillset competitive?

Maintaining a competitive edge in my skill set has been a pivotal element of my career growth. I have always had a philosophy of lifelong learning, engaging in ongoing professional development through workshops, conferences, and digital learning platforms. This approach ensures that I remain at the forefront of HR innovations, from the latest in strategic management to advancements in digital HR solutions. 

Networking with peers and industry leaders has also been crucial, offering fresh perspectives and insights into forward-thinking HR practices and challenges. I actively seek out constructive feedback and self-assess to pinpoint areas for further development, focusing my learning to address these gaps. 

How do you balance the strategic and day-to-day tasks in HR?

This has always been a struggle for me because I get really excited about what the future holds. I have found scheduling time to focus on both has helped me maintain a balance. And by schedule, I mean actually place a calendar appointment and stick to it. 

How do you keep up with the evolving HR landscape?

I am lucky to have an amazing network of former colleagues and HR practitioners I have sat on panels with or been conference speakers with. I find this is the best way to crowdsource data, analyze what works, and executive quickly. Keeping such an esteemed group of pros who are just as competitive and innovative as I try to be is the motivation for constantly evolving forward to success. 

How do you balance data-based talent decisions with your instinct as an HR professional?

I have a motto I stole from William Demming: In God we trust, everyone else must bring data. I have led a data-informed talent strategy since 2015. I depend heavily on analytics to help me guide the ship, especially with so much change occurring in the market. I find these data points tell a story and help me have unique, competitive insights that allow my team and me to stay ahead of the curve. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently tackling in hiring and talent management?

The economy’s uncertainty is the biggest. We provide talent to work on projects for our Clients and the current economic environment has proven to be challenging due to its instability. 

What trends do you think we’ll see in the upcoming year? Which are you most excited about?

AI, AI, AI. I am fascinated and excited about the impacts that AI has in HR especially. We are bogged down by processes and the ability for us to outsource some of that to AI and give us more time on the human aspects of the job is exhilarating. I also think this presents a unique opportunity for HR to lead the conversation of upskilling and reskilling our workforce. Our internal clients are looking to us for answers and guidance. It’s an exciting time. 

How do you balance and prioritize DE&I in your talent management processes?

DEI is a core value for Hatchworks. We build products and technology solutions for our clients and the best way to build the best product or service is through diversity on our teams. We have a “Girls Who Code” initiative to identify and expand the number of female STEM candidates we reach out to, develop, and hire. We are also actively engaged in expanding the number of Hatchers who are in underrepresented groups. We do not seek to achieve a balance because this is at the forefront of who we are. 

How are you building a future-ready workforce?

We believe our clients and the industry will continue to be transformed by the impact of AI. We are actively upskilling our talent to embrace and leverage AI. We have created internal AI champions who are helping us identify skill gaps and training our team to meet the challenges and opportunities presented with AI. 

What’s one piece of advice you’ve received in your career that everyone should know?

If you are a leader, you are not expected to have all of the answers. I think so many new leaders try so hard to have the answers rather than solicit ideas and feedback from their teams on how to solve complex problems. I was told early on to listen twice as much as I speak and when I have heeded that advice, things have always gone well. 

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